Cabin Fever: The Lodge (2019)
“Death is but a new beginning.”
I’m going to be blunt: I hated this movie.
I’m not even going to pretend like this is coming from some unbiased place where I am judging the movie purely on its own merits. No film criticism ever comes from an entirely unbiased place—we all carry our own baggage into the theater with us, and it comes back out with us, sometimes transformed, when we leave.
The Lodge didn’t transform any of my baggage—just rubbed my face in it. Again, that’s on me, not the movie, but it doesn’t mean that I had to like it.
Other people in the theater with me on the last night of Panic Fest had a better time with the flick than I did, and I don’t want to suggest in any way that their experience was invalid with anything that I’m about to write. I’m not here to say that The Lodge is a bad movie, but I’m certainly not here to say that it’s a good one.
The Lodge is a film that hinges on a reveal. Like any film that does so, it’s hard to talk about the movie in any meaningful way without getting into at least a few spoilers. There are some shocking moments in The Lodge, especially in its opening twenty minutes or so. If you want to go into the movie cold, by all means, stop reading now.
I watched The Lodge as part of Panic Fest and, like all the other movies I saw at Panic Fest, I wrote a one-sentence-or-so review on Twitter right after I got out of the theater. Here’s what this one said, besides that I hated it: “Call it this year’s Hereditary, complete with a family undone by grief and an obsession with dollhouse imagery, but add in Return of the King’s absolute refusal to end.
THE LODGE (2019) | Well, I hated that.
Call it this year’s HEREDITARY, complete with a family undone by grief and an obsession with dollhouse imagery, but add in RETURN OF THE KING’S absolute REFUSAL TO END. Longer thoughts coming later at @SignalHorizon.
— ? Orrin Grey ? (@orringrey) January 31, 2020
To the extent that The Lodge has a concrete, objective problem, it’s lodged (no pun intended) in there someplace.
The Lodge actually starts out pretty strong. There’s an “are you the babysitter”-level shock in the opening minutes, which introduces us to Laura (Alicia Silverstone) and Richard (Richard Armitage), a couple that have separated but not yet divorced. We also meet their two kids, Aidan (Jaeden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh).
Crucially, what these opening minutes don’t do is introduce us to Grace (Riley Keough), the “other woman” in this relationship, who is represented only as an absence—a shape that intrudes into the family dynamic. “Is she going to be there?” young Mia asks as they drive up to a house, with a tone that indicates clearly that she isn’t to be named.
It’s not until around the twenty-minute mark that we see Grace’s face or hear her voice. Once we do, the film does a good job of bouncing us around between sympathy for Grace and sympathy for the kids.
Unfortunately, that begins to peter out by the second act, when things take a turn for the weird and they all wind up alone in the titular lodge with no power and no food and all of their stuff missing.
Here’s the thing: The Lodge hinges on a reveal, like I said, and like any movie that hinges on a reveal, it gradually paints itself into a corner until that reveal is all-but unavoidable. In the best of circumstances, a movie can do this in a way that feels like breadcrumbs, an image that only comes into view when the final piece of the puzzle is fitted, but that feels inevitable once it does.
In The Lodge’s case, it paints and paints until there are only a couple of possible explanations left. Then it picks the most obvious one. And then, unforgivably, it just … keeps painting. And painting. And painting.
I literally started to rise from my seat several times because I was sure that the film had ended and we were about to cut to credits only to find that, nope, it was still dragging itself through the snow like a wounded animal.
There is a scene in The Lodge where one of the characters crawls on their knees in tiny, pointless circles through the snow. This felt like a metaphor for watching The Lodge. There is another scene where a character kneels on hot embers from the fireplace. This also felt like a metaphor for watching The Lodge.
Even the film’s obligatory deployment of the “Monumental Horror-Image” felt tacked on. More like a checklist of what a contemporary “prestige” horror flick has to include than an integral part of any larger picture.
Again, I’m not going to act like my reaction is entirely rational here. This movie pushed some buttons of mine that are my buttons and not the movie’s fault, and the mileage of anyone else watching it may well vary.
This may also be why the treatment of mental illness and PTSD here felt … pretty exploitative and gross to me. Which I don’t think was the intention.
Between this and what I have heard about The Turning, it is not a good year for lowkey (or not, in that case) remakes of The Turn of the Screw.
The Lodge is probably too well made to be entirely bad. It does several things extremely well, one of which is that the movie has exactly two settings: blindingly white or browns so dark that they devour all light. One or the other.
Whether you hate it will likely depend, to an enormous extent, on your patience for the film’s reveal, and its continued meandering once that reveal has been made abundantly clear.
For me, the best time I had during the whole movie was that Hammer logo up front and while the characters were watching The Thing on TV.
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.